Il ministro Laura Albanese
Vaughan – 200 employers and some of their unionized employees packed a hall at Carpenters Local 27 to hear how Provincial Minister for Immigration, Laura Albanese, proposed to resolve the Construction Industry’s labour shortage in Ontario.
They also wanted to learn how Ontario’s recent announcements on its Immigration Plan would overcome the Federal Government’s insensitive and cloistered approach to the needs of Ontario’s human resources needs.
Minister Albanese came to announce that Ontario’s Provincial Nominee Program (OINP) had been increased to accommodate 6,000 applicants. 500 of those positions had been reserved for Agricultural and Skilled/Semi-skilled Workers in the Construction industry.
These [are] to be filled via a pilot program under the Employer Job Offer Stream (EJOS) – a worthwhile effort. A further 2,500 are available under an “expedited” Express Entry stream that has do date been of little practice use to the Construction Industry and others.
The audience was patient and polite as two Provincial officials, Ministerial staff and Union officials elaborated how the program would work and how they proposed to help applicants achieve success. It helped that MP Francesco Sorbara was also in attendance to listen and to express support.
The presentation is best described as a delicate balance between deference and defiance. Employers could only hold back for so long. They viewed the announcement as “very little and very tentative”. The composure and “courage” exhibited by the bureaucrats earned the respect of the audience, but, in the end they were talking about how “their process would be more efficient”, while those present wanted to address the two big elephants in the room: recruitment of available labour and the “regularization” of the ones they had.
The federal government’s insistence on the strict language requirements are a huge stumbling block for potential immigrants from Mediterranean Europe and the southern half of the Western Hemisphere – two areas that provide the traditional skilled labour for the industry. Nothing in the Provincial plan changes that.
Speaker after speaker stressed that they had trouble keeping the workers they had (at competitive rates as dictated by collective agreements) because these had to stay one step ahead of Immigration Enforcement agents to stay in the country and on the job.
While appreciative of the streamlined process, Dan Montesano of Lido Construction asked from where he would recruit new applicants. “We have had to ask formerly retired staff to come back to work; 8 of our staff are between the age of 70 and 73. But Service Canada says there are unemployed Carpenters and construction workers in Canada. They can’t find them for my company”.
“Exactly”, responded another, “What do we do with the [thousands] of illegals/undocumented among our employees? Everyone knows they exist; the industry would collapse without them”.
“This system is set up to fail”, expressed another, “we cannot afford to place our staff at risk of removal by coming forward as applicants”. Even when employers try to help their workers here on legitimate Work Visas, Service Canada manages to jeopardize a healthy working relationship that allows employers to bid on contracts. In one case, an employer who submitted 15 applications for renewal was told he would only get 10 and he should make do with 5 less – in mid-contract.
“Ottawa just doesn’t know how to deal with the thousands of ’Ghost Workers’ who have become the backbone of Ontario’s economy – in construction, restaurant or trucking industry”, chimed in yet another employer. “Let us go out and recruit our own” pleaded yet another.
This was a friendly crowd. The Union local has been, and is, supportive of all Provincial and Federal initiatives to find [incremental but] long-term solutions to the labour stresses in Ontario’s construction sector.
Tony Iannuzzi, Ontario President of the Carpenter’s Union said, “we need governments to hear and listen – our employers could hire and place 20, 000 new workers tomorrow – but no one is paying attention”.
Maybe they will after this meeting. The two Immigration Officials both said they learned a lot. Ferd Longo, Minister Albanese’s Chief of Staff, promised that the Ontario Cabinet is fully behind the Minister’s initiative and that she has a mandate to push Ottawa hard to make it more sensitive to Ontario’s needs.
Maybe their federal cousins will understand the political importance of listening. Former Ministers Alexander and Kenney didn’t and look at what happened to them, mused a participant on the way out.